The Forrest Farm, 10:01 a.m.
When they returned to the farm, they were not completely empty-handed. Silas held the dead hound draped across his arms and Herc easily toted the dead deer over his shoulder while toting Jackson’s long rifle.
Myra and Doodle came out of the house and made a respectful fuss over their pup, taking the carcass from Silas and walking off to the barn. Herc tossed the deer with a thud nearby.
Emma, changed into her own shirt and coat, emerged from the kitchen, weapon in hand. Edgar followed close behind.
“Are you alright?” Emma asked them both. Her main attention was to Hercules, whom she gave a hug, but Silas at least got a polite nod.
Silas knew this was not the time for fence-mending, but by her cold reception of him, he knew he had miles of fence to repair.
“Edgar, I am sorry, but he got away,” Herc confessed, shaking his head. He removed his hat and stepped close to Edgar. “The boy?”
“He is fine, ‘cept he’s probably gonna have a bad limp for a while.” He tugged absently at his beard end stared at the ground. He came back to them. “Who on earth was that fellow? Why would he do that to a little boy—not to mention the doc . . .?”
The men looked at each other and then at Emma. Silas addressed them, “We don’t rightly know, but we do know he is after us. We tracked him across the railroad and over to the edge of the bluff. That’s where we found your hound. The only sign we spotted pointed to him either jumping over or falling off the edge. There weren’t no body, so we figure he’s back to the start and either is headed south or north to swing back around.”
Herc finished, “That is why we have to go. Now. Emma, if you are not safe for travel—”
“Oh no you don’t!” she interrupted. She turned to Edgar. “I truly appreciate your help and this is in no way a comment on your generosity or hospitality,” she said before turning back to Herc, “but you two are not leaving me behind. I am fit for travel and we have to stay together.”
“I hear what you’re sayin’, Emma,” Herc reasoned calmly with her, “but this here fellow, whomever he be, has made it clear he is looking for us. He mentions me and Silas by name and not you, so perhaps it is best if you—”
She pointed her index finger at him and poked it hard into his chest with each syllable as she said, “It is best if you shove your foot in your mouth and we get moving.”
Herc tenderly rubbed the battered spot on his chest and meekly replied, “Yes, Ma’am.”
He stepped away from the ball of fire and mumbled to Silas, “Somebody’s feeling better.”
“Look here, now,” Edgar broke in, “I say we all stick together here. You all are exposing yourselves to greater danger if you have this fellow chasing you. Stand your ground here with us. It will be a safer bet.”
“We will not risk your family’s safety, Edgar,” Silas said. “This is not your fight.”
Edgar was preparing to protest hotly when Lenora came from the kitchen struggling with what looked to be a couple extra skins of water and other supplies. She divvied the spoils up between the three travelers. As she handed Silas a sack of flour, she said, “You all is going to write and send me that cookie recipe, right?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “Listen here, Lenora, I am deeply sorry for your boy—”
She quickly put her finger to his lips. “Don’t you go spouting all regretful. At first I judged you harshly and I was wrong. You are a good man and I know you would never knowingly do anything to bring harm to another person.” She glanced at Emma briefly to let her words be spread to her as well. “My boy is safe for now and we shall survive this rough time. You all take care,” she said, nodding to the other two of his party. She turned and walked back into the kitchen and closed the door.
The sky darkened as clouds moved across the sun, immediately cooling the air several degrees.
The boys still had something to say and neither knew how to broach the subject. Finally, Herc nudged Silas in the back and Silas said, “Herc and I discussed it, and we think it may not be such a bad idea if you all clear out too.”
Edgar scoffed, “Son, I ain’t never run from a fight in my life and I ain’t intending to start at this late date! You must have rocks in your head if you all think—”
Doodle came up behind his father. “Momma says she’s going to take Jackson off to Clinton so the doc there can take a look at his leg while you and the rest of us are headin’ into town to stay at the boarding house.”
Edgar shook his head hard. “I got tobacco to get to ground. I cannot be hiding in town babysitting.”
“She said you would say that. She told me to tell you that you can come back in a day or two and get the plants in then.” Doodle backed away, expecting further eruptions. “She said either you wait to put the tobacco in the ground or she will put you in the ground first.”
Edgar flustered at the news, and huffed about for a moment or two, but finally blew his steam off. “Dang her and her bossiness.”
Silas took out a roll of money and tried to hand it to Edgar. “Here, take this. Herc and I done talked it over and we figure it’s the least we could do. You all deserve much more for your help, but . . . It ain’t much.”
This new affront purpled the bearded fellow’s face in anger. “Now you all go too far! You insult me with charity. I done what I done for you out of common Christian fellowship and not for any reward!”
Herc stepped between Edgar and Silas, hoping to calm the older man. “Now, look here, Edgar! This is our hard-earned money and if we offer it as our thanks for your kindness and troubles and you turn us down, well, I might take that as an offense myself.”
He tried to sham being cross with the man in the long white beard, but there was still a small hint of a smile in the corner of his mouth. “You refuse a gift and we might have to start to wrestle around like two drunken brawlers. I don’t know about you, but I’m too old to be rolling on the ground. Why, we may never get up. You know I could whip you, anyway, so hows about you just take the money and we forgo the insulting and wrestling?”
He winked at Edgar and though Edgar fought back a grin, he did not take the money from Silas. Myra, who had arrived in time to hear the exchange, rolled her eyes in the superior manner only an eighteen-year-old girl could and snatched the money from Silas, thanked him and walked away.
Emma watched as the children left the circle to attend to their mother. Silas and Herc moved off to the barn. Edgar stood with Emma for an uncomfortable moment, shifting his weight from foot to foot. He was overwhelmed at the flurry of activity visiting his quiet farm.
He smiled absently at Emma and was about to leave her when she lightly touched his arm. “Mister Forrest, I know we have not had much of a chance to speak, but I feel I need to thank you personally for taking us in. I fear I may not have fared too well if you had not. Thank you.”
“Um, you are welcome, Miss. I reckon you are a might stronger than you give yourself credit for, but I considered it a pleasure to offer you rest. To be honest, it was an honor to meet you and your friends there. They are fine men and you could not have found two better fellows to help you in your journey.”
She smiled and shook his hand.
He held it for a moment longer so she could not escape his next words. “I do not presume to know what this rift is that has opened up between you and Silas, and I frankly do not want to know more than what my talkative wife has already told me. I will say, though, this is a big world. It is an unfriendly world too, for the most part. Traveling through that world while carrying a silly grudge just makes the journey all the more dangerous. Drop the weight. Put a bridge up over that rift between you and Silas. He cares for you, but he is a man and men make mistakes.”
She was stunned at this odd old fellow and his honesty. She had not shared more than ten words with him and when he finally did speak, he spoke so frankly, at first it bristled her, but she knew he was right. It was an unfriendly world and she could not afford to shun those friends she did have.
Edgar released her hand. “Y’all don’t have to say anything.”
She sighed and kept silent for she had no idea what to say to the man.
“Just think on my words, Miss Emma. You left your home behind for whatever reasons and they are your family now.”
With a tip of the hat, Edgar bowed his head as he went to the house to prepare for the approaching storm.
Inside the barn, the boys had pretty much packed it in and were beginning the saddling of Emma’s horse. She took her saddle from Hercules, bending under the weight, and threw it upon Shot’s back herself. Mere moments later, the trio led the horses out under ever darkening skies. They mounted and Silas gave a long hoot in the general direction of the tobacco barn. Ezra Bean poked his flat face though an open shutter high above and leaned out of the window. He let himself fall forward. He dropped lazily a rod or two and unfurled his long wings. Gliding downward, he flapped his wings hard three times and swung up, launching himself over his fellow travelers and off into the woods.
Emma looked to Herc, “How does he know which direction we will take when we do not even know yet?”
“I don’t know, Emma,” Herc snorted. “Maybe we’ll just follow him for a change.”
They set off in single file past the house. The pilgrimage rounded the corner nearest the kitchen when the door opened and Doodle came out. He was carrying his rifle and scanning the property for the mystery assailant. He halted the group, set his rifle against a tree and hefted the carcass of the deer.
He struggled admirably under the weight and approached Herc. “Poppa said you all should take this.”
Herc wrangled for a grip on the antlers as Doodle slid the game across the back of his horse, just behind the saddle. “He says a buck like this would just be wasted on the two of us. He and I are going to stay here. We are going to see Momma, and the girls off to Clinton and then we are to return here and tend to matters. Way he figures, even if the doc is still alive, he ain’t in no condition to care for Jackson or Francis. He don’t want to leave the women or the farm, but the farm cannot tend to itself right now and Momma can.”
“Tell him his generosity is boundless and appreciated,” Herc said solemnly.
“I will. Poppa says to stick to the railroad tracks yonder and follow them to town. When you get to the Dorena Ferry crossing there on the river, tell the ferry captain Edgar sent you and he should take you across to Missouri at no charge. He owes Poppa a boulder-sized favor. Poppa and Momma have discussed it some and once Jackson is tended to, the women will be headin’ on up to St. Louis for Francis’ treatment. You should have seen Momma’s eyes all wettin’ up when Myra gave her that money. She cursed you a little, Mister Silas, but she don’t get too emotional often and I knowed it touched her. I have no idea how much that was, but she says it can get them there just fine.”
“Can you remember a name to repeat to her, son?” Herc asked.
The boy squinted, though there was no longer a bright sun overhead and only gathering thick clouds. “I reckon.”
“Tell her to find her way to Romeo Beck at Smitty’s on the levee. From there, tell Romeo to lead her to Estelle Rowland at the Hotel Crawford. She is a good friend of ours and your women folk would not be in better hands.”
“Yessir,” he nodded, burning the information in his mind. “I will tell her.”
Herc turned to his friends. “Lenora will be better than any telegram. She can fill Estelle in as to our progress.” He returned to the oldest son. “You are a good man, Doodle, and it has been a pleasure meeting you. Please tell Jackson I am sorry he got into this mess and I apologize for not sayin’ goodbye in person.”
Herc’s eyelids fluttered. He turned away quickly and wiped his finger across his eyes. “He don’t deserve to be cut up by that fellow and if I get my hands on him, you tell Little Jackson I will set the fellow right. You tell him I will come back this way some day and tell him all about it.”
“Yessir,” Doodle nodded.
As the line moved again, Doodle called out once more, “I forgot! I forgot to tell you. Jackson came to a few moments ago. Though he made little sense, he did say something Poppa thought you all should know, said it was real important.”
Silas, Herc and Emma exchanged brief, puzzled glances.
“Poppa said to tell you Jackson said this fellow was in some place called ‘Andersonville,’ if that makes any sense to you.”
Silas and Herc shared a long glance.
They thanked him and rode down the path.
“What was that news of Andersonville to mean?” Emma asked.
“That place is piled high with ghosts and they always find a way to come back and haunt,” Herc replied, though Emma could see he was trying to discern the meaning of the message himself.
“Well, I doubt it was a ghost cut that boy’s leg,” Emma said.
“Indeed,” was Herc’s only reply.